Elemental Analyzers Information

oxygen and nitrogen elemental analyzer

Elemental analyzers are a family of high-tech devices that analyze the chemical content of organic and inorganic materials. The analyzers determine the presence of a wide range of elements, although devices that test for carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur content are among the most common. Elemental analyzers use a variety of methods to examine the elemental content of liquids, solids, gasses or slurries. Below is a list of materials that analyzers measure, identify and test the composition:


  • Coal
  • Coke
  • Fuel oil
  • Minerals and ores
  • Soil
  • Ceramics
  • Cement
  • Ferrous and nonferrous metals
  • Plant and animal materials
  • Manufactured chemical materials (both organic and inorganic)
  • Electronic and semiconductor materials


Basic elemental analysis dates back to the late 19th century. Researchers discovered they could use materials such as platinum or high-purity quartz glass for the analysis of several elements including carbon and nitrogen. The presence of carbon and nitrogen are natural building blocks for many compounds. The technology continued to advance in the early 1900s, providing higher accuracy and additional element identification. In 1923, German researcher Fritz Pregl won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his method of micro-analysis in organic substances.


The first elemental analyzer with simultaneous detection of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen was invented in 1932.


Elemental Analyzers became more prominent for industrial use by the 1940s. Standard industrial practices determined the presence of wear metals in diesel oils. Thanks to miniaturization, highly advanced processors and software, modern analyzers are small enough to mount on a desktop or carry into the field. Capabilities extend to sample analysis for virtually any material and the ability to determine the presence of dozens of simple and complex elements.





Elemental analyzers are categorized based on the element or combination of elements a device can identify. Present-day devices recognize numerous elements in a singular method as well as combinations of many elements. The most common types of analyzers include:


  • Combined carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen
  • Oxygen and nitrogen
  • Sulfur-in-oil and chlorine-in-oil
  • Carbon and sulfur in metal, alloy and ore
    Compliance types to test for harmful or hazardous particulates like mercury and many other elemental emissions
  • Cross belt analyzers that allow the continual throughput and analysis of ores and concentrates, typically used to ensure consistent quality of mined materials
  • Multipurpose types that can test for a broad array of individual or combined elements



How Elemental Analyzers Work


The primary elemental analyzer has a combustion chamber that holds a small sample—just a few milligrams—of a material. Excess oxygen is introduced into the chamber, and the sample is “mineralized” at temperatures of roughly 900 degrees Celsius. The resulting byproducts of combustion allow the analyzer to determine what elements are present (qualitative analysis) and the quantity of elements present (quantitative analysis).

There are several methods by which elemental analyzers work. The methods used for the analysis and detection of elements in a sample consist of:



  • Dry colorimetric
  • Dry combustion
  • Inert gas fusion
  • Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy
  • Electrochemical
  • Gas chromatography
  • Infrared detection
  • Neutron activation
  • Spectrometric detection
  • Thermal conductivity detection
  • The Kjeldahl method


Video credit: Bruker




Modern elemental analyzers require a few seconds to several minutes to complete an individual test. While some merely analyze the presence of one element or combination of elements, others have variable settings that perform tests for a variety of items. The devices also work in conjunction with an assortment of computer software options such as Microsoft Windows programs or online applications. In addition, the devices vary in size from portable types that work well for the desktop or in the field to large industrial types such as coal analyzers.


The qualifications of elemental analyzers include:


  • The ability to find available elements or combination of elements a device can test
  • Post-analysis capabilities using qualitative or quantitative readings
  • Choice of distinct techniques used to conduct the analysis
  • Form variations of the substance the elemental analyzer can test—solids, liquids, gasses, and all three or a particular combination of the three





Detecting the presence of carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen is a foundational need of chemists. Elemental analysis of manufactured products is essential in many industries. Archaeology, biology, electronics, forensic science, geology, petrochemicals, mining and energy are just a few specialized fields and industries that rely on elemental analysis. Applications for elemental analyzers within these areas include:


  • Contaminant identification
  • Engine wear analysis
  • Environmental analysis
  • Geological analysis
  • Pharmaceutical analysis
  • Compliance testing for pollutants and emissions
  • Testing for the proper mix or consistency in manufactured products of fuel oils, plastics, petrochemicals, pyrotechnical compounds and other chemicals
  • Assessment of the proper mix or consistency in mined products such as coal and ores
  • Testing for impurities in materials (polymer-grade materials, ethylene and propylene)
  • Examination of volatile and air sensitive materials


Selecting Elemental Analyzers


The most vital consideration when acquiring an elemental analyzer is the list of elements or combination of elements it tests for and identifies. Numerous devices specialize in the use in a single industrial application. For example, cross belt analyzers designed to allow quick throughput and testing of coal to ensure purity characteristics.


It is also imperative to consider the size and weight of samples intended for testing. In addition, the size of the individual particles in the sample is a critical factor. Many devices are only capable of testing samples of up to a few milligrams while others are incapable of analyzing samples that contain large particles.




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